Politicians should follow Ponting's lead

OPINION

The summer parliamentary break used to herald what was known among journalists as the “silly season”.

That meant that the usual sources of news – like political debate, new legislation, and governments implementing policies – would fade away, to be replaced by more trivial  reports such as shark-sightings at  beaches.

But this year Australians have endured a year-long “silly season” from our federal parliamentarians, and it wasn’t hard to imagine the nation heaving a  sigh of  relief when the Federal Parliament finished its final sitting day of the year on Thursday.

In keeping with what has been happening throughout 2012, the parliamentary year naturally finished on a highly acrimonious note with the Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a pitched battle with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his deputy Julia Bishop.

As usual both sides were trying to take the high moral ground amid claim and counterclaim.

Ms Gillard claimed Mr Abbott was “handcuffed” to an allegation, for which he had no proof, that 20years ago Ms Gillard had committed crimes as a lawyer. She accused the Opposition leader of being too negative, lightweight and sexist to run the country.

In response the Opposition Leader accused Ms Gillard of "unethical conduct and possibly unlawful behaviour" and called for a judicial inquiry into her past.

Most Australians are heartily sick of what passes for political debate in this country. We want to see what the government is doing to make the country work better, and we want to hear what policies opposition parties have.

Independent MP Tony Windsor – one of the few voices of reason  – summed up the nation’s reaction to the poisonous atmosphere in Canberra last week when he said: “I think those who don’t like Julia Gillard have their view reinforced. Those who think Tony Abbott’s strategy isn’t a very good one have their view reinforced. Those who don’t particularly care about either of them probably look at the place in frustration.”

Mr Windsor added that he was much more interested in the major policy decisions like the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, finding money to implement the key recommendations of the Gonski Report into the nation’s education system, and continuing the Broadband roll-out.

He is so right.

Unfortunately the nasty, vitriolic name-calling of last week (and indeed the whole year)  is only a taste of things to come as we head into an election year in 2013 with both sides intent on discrediting, even demonising, the other side’s leader.

Let’s hope we have a long, hot summer...and that our political leaders stay in the shade for as long as possible.

If our federal parliamentary leaders were anything but dignified last week, former Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting was dignity personified when he announced that the third Test against South Africa currently being played in Perth would be his last.

As a mark of respect for his former captain Steve Waugh, Ponting decided that he would end his career after his 168th Test – matching Waugh as Australia’s longest-serving Test players.

It was a classy decision from one of the classiest cricketers Australia has produced – in stark contrast to the distinct lack of class in Canberra.

Nick Hartgerink is a former Mercury editor who now runs his own media consultancy.

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